DoH fights back over polyclinics

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There was proof that the BMA's campaign against polyclinics could be damaging the government last week, as the DoH began a public relations counter-attack.

After health secretary Alan Johnson described the BMA's campaign as 'inaccurate' and 'scaremongering', his colleague, health minister Ben Bradshaw said the campaign material was 'bizarre' and 'inexplicable'.

No surgeries to close

Public attacks on the BMA just before this year's LMCs' conference have soured relations.

But GPs also face a backlash as senior politicians start to publicly criticise the profession, not just its union.

Mr Bradshaw told GP: 'I think GPs may be miffed over extended hours, and the implication of real choice.'

His comments echoed the thoughts of Mr Johnson in The Observer last week, where he wrote: 'Controversy may be caused by some GPs who fear greater choice for patients, worried that they themselves will lose out.'

As the bad-mouthing of GPs began, Mr Bradshaw was visiting a GP-led health centre in Kirkby, Nottinghamshire.

He was highly critical of the BMA's campaign, insisting that no surgeries would close.

He took a campaign leaflet from his suit pocket and urged the media scrum around him to send him any other examples of such leaflets, as if it were offensive material.

The DoH's spin machine looked well oiled, with Mr Bradshaw posing for photos with a young GP and touring the primary care unit of the hospital, a shiny new example of a GP-led health centre, which opened in March.

During the neatly choreographed visit, Mr Johnson happened to come across four elderly patients browsing pictures of pre-NHS Britain.

He then turned to the assembled crowd of journalists and PCT representatives and asked: 'We sometimes take the NHS for granted, don't we?'

The health centre was carefully chosen, set within a community hospital in a very deprived area. The group that runs it, Central Notts Clinical Services (CNCS), is made up of local GPs and a social enterprise. There are only three GPs there full time, and they work under an APMS contract.

All the right questions

CNCS's medical director, GP Dr Richard Hook, said Mr Bradshaw was 'very careful,' and 'asked all the right questions' as he toured the facilities.

Dr Hook said the health centre was not a polyclinic, and that GPs were right to be concerned about them. 'It's something to be very afraid of,' he warned.

Dr Hook said the health centre was the result of becoming 'more active to defend general practice and prevent a private company getting a foothold in the area'. 'There is a lot of disquiet with the changes since 2005. This was never a polyclinic - GPs brought their expertise together to provide at Kirkby.'

Mr Bradshaw told GP there were no plans to roll out more GP-led health centres, and Mr Johnson promised no GP surgeries would close because of polyclinics. The government says it is committed to family doctors.

So is this evidence the BMA's campaign has been effective?

Mr Bradshaw told the media: 'We are not imposing anything anywhere,' but a minute later, said: 'We want every PCT to set up a GP-led health centre.'

It would appear that the public is backing the anti-polyclinic message, with the BMA's petition amassing an amazing 1.2 million signatures.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com.

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